The two US Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions in the Pacific this summer both had lengthy records of failure to fulfill key training requirements, according to Government Accountability Office data provided to Congress and obtained by CNN.
The USS Fitzgerald had expired training certification for 10 out of 10 key warfare mission areas in June, and the USS John S. McCain had let its certifications lapse in six out of the 10 mission areas, the data show.
The dismal training record for the two ships sheds new light on one factor that may have contributed to the two collisions with commercial ships in June and August, which killed 17 sailors.
The training records of the McCain and Fitzgerald were worse than the average warship in the Pacific, but they weren’t the only ones with training problems. GAO testimony released last week revealed that expired training certifications for the Navy’s 11 cruisers and destroyers based in Japan had skyrocketed five-fold from 7% in January 2015 to 37% in June. Two-thirds of the certifications had been expired for at least five months.
The deadly destroyer accidents — along with two Navy cruiser collisions Pacific earlier this year — prompted the dismissal of the Navy’s 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, as well as multiple reviews of the way the Navy trains, maintains and deploys its fleet that’s stretched thin.
A Navy official contested the GAO’s training certification data, arguing that the GAO was focused on higher-level warfighting certifications and not the nuts-and-bolts certifications for operating ships where the Pacific fleet’s destroyers and cruisers have a better record. There are 22 certifications required for each ship and the GAO only reported on half, the official noted, though they declined to provide the full training records for the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, citing the ongoing investigations into the collisions.
Senior Navy officials told lawmakers last week that the service is committed to getting to the root of the issues that have contributed to the spate of collisions.
“We ask the sailors to do an awful lot … and perhaps we’ve asked them to do too much,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran told the House armed services committee at a hearing last week on the collisions. “That’s what the comprehensive review will look at.”
Moran told lawmakers he had made a “wrong assumption” that forced forward-deployed naval forces in Japan were the most proficient and well-trained because they were operating all the time.
A Pacific Fleet spokeswoman said the Navy will examine all aspects of surface fleet operations with an emphasis on the 7th Fleet as part of the review ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
“This will include, but not be limited to, looking at operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment. It also will include a review of how we train and certify our surface warfare community, including tactical and navigational proficiency,” Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman said in a statement. “It would be premature to comment on any one part of the investigation before it is complete.”